Sunday, May 22, 2011

Free Spaces Make for Protest Places

Gathering space for people is important for human society. Take the example of Puerta del Sol in Madrid, Spain.

I spent a fair amount of time in this incredible space just a few months ago. It is truly the Sol ~ soul of the entire country. Every road radiates outward from this point to places all over Europe. It is the center of everything in Spain. Read more about it here.

In the late 2000's, this site, which had been a busy vehicle filled transportation hub, was converted into a mostly car fee space. The transportation has all been moved underground. It is now THE gathering spot of Madrid, as well as the rest of the country.

"Gathering" also sometimes includes protest. This is fantastic. Having a space where people can gather peacefully and safely in large numbers is crucial to a functioning democracy. We all saw how important this was in Egypt with Tahir Square. We also saw how it all plays out when democracy doesn't exist: China, Tiananmen Square, 1989.

Humans have always gathered. It used to be over a campfire but it has changed quite a bit over time.

Watch the live feed below. As of this posting, it shows the occupation of Puerta del Sol in Madrid. How it all plays out will only be known over time. Twitter has played a role but overall, it's space, place and people.

Free live streaming by Ustream

Monday, May 9, 2011

Video: "Complete Streets"

In my writings, I frequently mention terms such as "walkability", "livability", mode share", "bus rapid transit", bike friendly" and "transit oriented". Some of you may know what they mean and maybe you've heard them before. However, even if you do know what they mean, it is hard to visualize these words. It is difficult to translate these words into an actual physical space.

Another term I constantly mention is "complete street". I define it as a street for all users: cars, bikes, pedestrians, skateboards, children, transit users, transit vehicles, trucks, you know, everyone and everything.

If you've ever had a hard time visualizing a complete street, today is your lucky day! Streetfilms just released a very in depth video on complete streets.

Watch it right here:

My favorite part about this video is the people they interview. They ask pedestrians about the bike lanes, transit users about pedestrian plazas, car drivers about safer sidewalks. The big takeaway from all of this is mutual benefit. If a street is made safer for pedestrians, it is probably made safer for car drivers as well. Sure, you may have to wait at the light for another 5 seconds but you are also more likely to make it home alive! I think that's something we can all get behind.

In regards to this video, one small caveat: This is NYC they are talking about. This is a city where, as they said, over 50% of people do not own cars! Essentially, it's crazy to think that these complete streets policies are only now being implemented.

What about Tucson? Or Albuquerque? Or even Denver? Most people in these cities a) own cars and b) drive everywhere. Can we even compare these cities with the mighty Big Apple?

I would argue that we can. All of these cities have significant numbers of people who do not own cars. Maybe these people get a ride with friends or buy a car not because they want to but because they feel like there is no other choice.

Gas prices are on the rise again and more people are out biking and riding transit. As communities, will we support these people or continue pushing them to the margins?

I think the video speaks for itself.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Better 4th Ave: Bike Boulevard Scenario Final Project

4th Ave. and Elm St.

When I watch people bike around the nationally recognized bicycle friendly campus at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, I see people biking slow, biking fast, wearing flip-flops, talking on cellphones, talking to friends, etc. Some people would identify this as "bad biking behavior"; I see it as something else.

On campus, people can bike without a fear of being hit by cars! Since many perts of campus are closed off to cars, people have the freedom to bike or walk around at whatever speed they want, however they please. Safe, car free (or car lite) streets are ideal for stimulating bike ridership.

For my final project in my 416E: Geovisualization class, my group and I created scenarios for bike related infrastructure. We focused our scenarios on a short stretch of 4th Ave. This street is currently undergoing treatments to become more bike friendly. However, we built scenarios that demonstrated the possibilities for turning 4th Ave. into a real bike boulevard.

What is a bike boulevard? Watch the video below to find out:

To build our scenario, we used Google SketchUp. This is a free object modeling program that is quite easy to use. We then imported our models into Google Earth to provide real world imagery as a backdrop. Here are some screenshots from my Google Earth + SketchUp model:
4th and University, looking North

4th at Catalina Park, looking North

4th and Speedway, looking North

My scenario was a "bike friendly" scenario. Someone else in our group did a full "bike priority" scenario as well. Unfortunately, we could not export our video tours onto YouTube. Apparently, you need to buy Google Earth Pro to do that.

This project was fun because it forced us to learn how to use some useful Google freeware to build a real world scenario. I plan on using this software in the future to create more models.
4th Ave. at Catalina Park